The basic rotation for southern Victoria is Wheat > Barley > Canola, then back to wheat. This rotation has evolved over time and is the most profitable. It's not surprising that these three crops are grown. Of the 7 most popular grains grown in the world these three are the only winter crops. Unfortunately it is doubtful that this rotation will be sustainable in the long term. Annual ryegrass is a weed that grows at the same time as the above crops and seeds profusely. The canola year is an opportunity to severely deplete the population of ryegrass using a range of pre and post emergent selective herbicides. Ryegrass is also held in check in the cereal years with other selective herbicides. One year of poor control can see populations rise significantly.
Southern Victorian grain growers are looking for a fourth crop.
- A legume - could provide some additional ryegrass control measures, as well as improving soil health.
- A fodder or cover crop -will assist with removing ryegrass plants before they seed, either sprayed out as mulch or cut for hay or silage.
- A Summer crop - allows knockdown herbicides to be used in the spring, before ryegrass seeds.
There are five main winter legumes grown in Australia. These are lupins, field peas, faba beans, chickpeas & lentils.
Lupins are more suited to the sandy soils of coastal Gippsland. They have been tried in the clay-loam duplex soils but have not done well. Lupins are usually planted late April or early May. There are ready markets for lupins in Gippsland, and local producers with the right soil types should be able to compete with imports.
Field peas have grown well in the clay-loam duplex soils of the red gum plains. They are usually planted in May, June or July. Earlier sowing performs better in Gippsland. The price received for field peas does not encourage their production.
Faba Beans have been tried locally with mixed success. They are a popular crop in western Victoria in areas with similar rainfall and soil types. A well limed paddock is essential as they don't like very acid soils. A minimum pH (CaCl) of 5.0 is suggested. Faba beans require a high level of management, but should be a worthwhile crop to grow. They are also known colloquially as 'failure beans'.
Chickpeas have not yet been grown in Gippsland. They are a crop that may have a place planted into a maize stubble. One of the limitations with chickpeas is that they do not tolerate water logging. Unlike lupins, field peas and faba beans, chickpeas will tolerate warm conditions during flowering and grain fill. In fact, chickpeas will not set pods until the average daily temperature reaches 15 degrees - mid November for Gippsland. As for faba beans, chickpeas will also require a paddock that has been limed to reduce any acid problems. Again, a minimum pH (CaCl) of 5.0 is suggested.
Lentils have also not been grown in Gippsland. It is recomended that they only be grown on a soil with a pH (CaCl) of 6.0 or above. It is unlikely that they will be suited to our conditions. But I could be wrong :)
Fodder and Cover Crops
Markets for fodder exist in the local dairy industry with a lot of hay and straw brought in from other districts. Gippsland soils are low in potassium and replacing lost nutrients should be accounted for when doing budgets.
Oats have been grown as a grazing and hay crop forever. Poor haymaking weather in some years will reduce quality. Cereal hay does not store well and needs to be used in the first winter after it is made. It is essential that the crop is cut before the ryegrass seeds as seed will be dropped on the ground when the hay is made. For this reason it may be better to cut earlier and make silage instead of hay. I'd imagine that an earlier maturing variety planted later would perform better if the objective is to remove weed seeds.
Vetch has recently become a popular hay option with some growers. The yields have been good and the following crop performs well.
Millet has also taken off in recent years. Planted after winter crop harvest it provides plenty of quality grazing over the summer. It can be grazed off or sprayed out as a ground cover. Millet encourages beneficial fungi in the soil and following wheat crops perform well. It may be a real good option to grow as a cover crop after a winter crop, spray it out in the Autumn and fallow for six months before planting maize.
Several summer legumes may have a place in Gippsland.
Mung Beans & Azuki Beans are closely related. Mung beans are very popular in northern Australia and have a good export market with attractive prices. They are heat and drought tolerant. Azuki beans are native to Japan and are grown at similar latitudes to Gippsland. They prefer cooler conditions. Being a Japanese market, quality is very important.
Soybeans might grow here. Soybeans are very sensitive to day length and this determines their flowering date. Present varieties in Australia are not suited to Gippsland as they are too late to flower. Soybeans are not as drought tolerant as mung beans, for this reason they would be a risky crop to grow.
Cow peas are related to mung and azuki beans. They have a very small culinary market, although they may have a bigger market as cover crop seed. Cow peas could be a useful cover crop over the summer between two winter crops, especially during a wet summer.
Lab lab is another possibility for a cover crop between two winter crops. Seed is expensive though.
Summer Cereal & Oilseed Crops
A rundown of the big three summer crops
Maize is the most popular grain crop in the world. It has grown well in local trials and has ready local markets.
Sorghum is the 6th most popular grain crop in the world. Sorghum has also performed reasonably in local trails, however it has not yet yielded as well as maize. A limitation is that we are a little bit cool and tillers are not finishing properly. Planting heavier may be an option. Sorghum is a lot cheaper to grow than maize, but it receives a lower price. Harvesting also occurs later.
Sunflowers may be suited to our climate. Prices for sunflower may be double that of maize, but only 1/3rd of the yield. It is doubtful whether sunflowers could compete with other crops on their own. Sunflowers are one crop that may be a double crop option following wheat or barley harvest.